Southern Rust of Corn

  • Southern corn rust is a fungal disease that generally affects corn after silking.
  • Weather conditions can have a significant affect on when southern rust develops and how far and quickly the disease spreads.
  • Yield loss can be severe, especially in late-planted corn.


Life Cycle

Southern rust is caused by the fungus Puccinia polysora and generally occurs in tropical to sub-tropial areas. Under favorable conditions, the disease can thrive in temperate regions. The pathogen overwinters in southern Florida, the Caribbean, and Mexico and is transported north each year by winds and storms. Like common rust, southern rust requires a live host to survive. Disease occurrence is dependent upon wind dispersal of the pathogen, thus infection one year does not indicate that southern rust will occur the following year.


Favorable Conditions

Disease development is favored by high humidity and temperatures between 80° and 90° F. Under favorable conditions, new infections are visible in about 10 to 14 days.1 Epidemics may occur when unusual weather patterns lead to mass air movements from the tropics, where southern rust is endemic.



Pustules develop primarily on the upper surface of leaves and only sparsely on the lower leaf surface (Figure 1). Pustules are circular to oval in shape and light orange in color. These pustules erupt and expose small, dust-like spores, which are dispersed by wind. Unlike common rust, pustules may also develop on ear husks and leaf sheath tissues surrounding the stalk.

Effect on Yield Potential

Southern rust has the potential to cause yield loss due to its ability to develop and spread rapidly. The effect of the disease on corn plant health and yield depends on time of infection. Plants infected early in the season may develop significant damage to leaf tissue. Heavy infections of southern rust can lead to early senescence and can limit the ability of the plant to produce carbohydrates for grain fill. This leads to stalk cannibalization and may predispose the plant to stalk lodging, stalk rots, and reduced grain quality.

If southern rust is identified, growers in the region should first focus their scouting efforts on irrigated, late-planted fields or low-lying fields, such as river bottoms, that are prone to moist conditions. Irrigated or river bottom fields are more likely to have the high humidity required by southern rust to infect corn. Late-planted fields are at risk for developing more severe infections of southern rust because young leaves are more susceptible than older leaves. When scouting for southern rust, determine the growth stage and yield potential to help evaluate whether or not fungicide applications are an economically feasible option.


Management Options

Resistant corn products are the most cost-effective means to manage southern rust in field corn.

Chemical control may be warranted if the weather forecast is for hot, wet, and humid conditions, pustules are present, and black layer is four or more weeks away. However, consider the following before applying a fungicide2:

  • Corn that is within two weeks from physical maturity (black layer) may not benefit from a fungicide treatment.
  • Fungicide treatment for corn with estimated yield potential of less than 150 bushels per acre may not provide a profitable return.
  • Spraying may increase yield if more than 10% of the leaf area is damaged.
  • Fungicide control is preventative rather than curative.

Fungicides can not restore the health of infected leaf tissues, but they can prevent new tissues from becoming infected. Thus, applications must be made before southern rust develops to severe levels. Please consult with your local agronomist if you have concerns about southern rust in your fields, and review university recommendations for fungicide application timing.


1Robertson, A. 2007. Outbreak of southern rust on corn. Integrated Crop Management. IC-498(23). Iowa State University. (Verified 6/23/14).

2Koenning, S. 2005. Southern rust for corn. Corn Disease Information Note 2. North Carolina State University. (Verified 6/23/14).

Additional sources: Jackson, T. 2007. Rust diseases of corn in Nebraska. NebGuide G1680. University of Nebraska. (Verified 6/23/14). 

Lipps, P., Dorrance, A.E., and Mills, D.R. Common corn rust. Fact Sheet AC-0031-01. The Ohio State University. (Verified 6/23/14). 

Pataky, S. Differentiating common rust and southern rust. Plant Management Network. University of Illinois. (verified 6/23/14).

130711060808 040415CRB.

This browser is no longer supported. Please switch to a supported browser: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari.